Last summer, my younger son had the opportunity to go on a whale watch boat with a camp he was attending. The tour actually came upon a small pod of whales with a baby whale that were just off the side of the boat, really close. My son was thrilled. This was Patrick’s best day of summer camp. He was also appalled. Appalled at the behavior of a couple of boys who spent the whole boat ride at an interior table, playing with their gameboy video games. They barely looked up when the whales were spotted.
I was reminded of this while listening to Bob McKinnon, founder of YellowBrickRoad communications company, who spoke at the CCFC summit of the need for intergenerational interaction, and how sad it was for him to see kids who had the opportunity to hang out with a great grandparent, who wasted their time texting their friends while listening to music on headphones. Such children are not engaged with their families. They are disengaged from everything happening around them. The actions of the children on the whale watch even reminds me of addictive behavior. Yoga and meditation practitioners often speak of the need for “mindfulness,” or being “present.” What this means for me is to actually pay attention to what I am doing at any moment, to my interactions with my children, with other people, even to mundane daily activities like brushing my teeth. Not to just go through the motions, waiting to move on to something I would rather be doing. I find this helps me to avoid feeling bored.
Bob McKinnon said something else about paying attention that I think is key to the battle for our children against corporate interests. First, he told a joke about a border guard and a trucker. Every time the trucker arrived at the border, the guard would go through the cargo very carefully. He was certain the trucker was smuggling something, but he couldn’t find it. Finally, when they were both retiring, the guard was so curious, he had to know. He asked the trucker to tell him, confidentially, what he had been smuggling. The answer? Trucks.
The moral? Don’t forget to pay attention to the big picture. Kids are watching something like 40 hours of TV on average a week. You can try to fight the individual nasty products, the sexy products for preteen girls, the gruesome violence marketed to boys, the bad sports role models, etc., etc. But if they watched a lot less TV, for starters, and played a lot fewer video games, they would be exposed to less and the effect would be greatly lessened. Excessive exposure is a major problem. Those parents who let the kids bring a gameboy to a whale watch – Why? Why can’t they put it down for a day, and at the risk of a few minutes of boredom, maybe have a real and really thrilling day?